The torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty were extremely controversial. Supposedly, they even cost the film an Oscar, Argo, the CIA’s other propaganda effort for 2012, trounced ZDT at the Academy Awards.
There is no factual evidence that connects any intelligence gleaned from torture with the successful operation that took out Osama Bin Laden but this movie uses the magic of Hollywood to cement the two together forever.
Recently I decided to watch these torture scenes with Joshua Phillips, a journalist who spent years researching the effects of torture on detainees and interrogators. He is the author of None of Us Were Like this Before: American Soldiers and Torture.
At Joshua’s apartment we recorded a torture commentary track for our imaginary Criterion edition of the film.
We will probably never learn the truth about how we found Osama Bin Laden. But there is one thing I know for certain: we didn’t get the information from Umarov Muhibullah.
Journalist McKenzie Funk ran into Umarov, one of the first men to be released from Guantanamo, while hiking in Tajikistan. Umarov told Mackenzie that the US held him for two years before letting him go. He was never told why we had been detained nor was he compensated in any fashion. This was a scoop, but Mackenzie was young and he couldn’t get any major media interested in the story. It did run in Mother Jones. In 2010 Wikileaks released a number of Guantanamo related files, including documents that attested to the innocence of Umarov and others.
Mackenzie and I put this story together two years ago. The week US forces killed Osama Bin Laden. For a brief second I thought this might be when we come to our senses and close Guantanamo once and for all. But it is still open. Today 100 inmates are on hunger strike. I believe they have finally learned the truth about Guantanamo: it will never close.